Skip to content

Our work on Cotehele's estate

A wildlife experience specialist walks through a field sweeping the meadow for insects with a butterfly net at Osterley Park and House, Middlesex
Searching for insects with a butterfly net | © National Trust Images / Oskar Proctor

Cotehele’s vast estate is home to a range of habitats that are teeming with wildlife. The team work hard to protect resident creatures and maintain the environments where they can be found. Rangers regularly monitor the wildlife populations to help understand the overall health of habitats and gauge which species are thriving. This includes tracking dormice activity, counting butterflies in the warmer months and protecting bats.

Protecting dormice

Dormice numbers in the UK have fallen by about a third since the year 2000, partly due to habitat loss. This is according to the wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES). Dormice are now extinct in 17 English counties.

The tiny rodents prefer to live high in the tree canopy in old deciduous woodland. The team at Cotehele are encouraging the local dormice population through woodland management and placing nesting boxes.

At least 50 nesting boxes have been installed across Cotehele’s woodland, which are monitored monthly by licensed staff. All the information gathered is fed into the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, overseen by the PTES.

A dormouse poking its head out ranger's hands that are carefully holding it during box checks in the woodlands at Killerton, Devon
Dormouse box checks | © National Trust Images / Fi Hailstone

How you can help

There are a few simple things you can do to encourage dormice and other wildlife to thrive. Allowing gardens to get a bit messy is a great help.

It’s also beneficial to let bramble grow, leave ivy on trees and pile up fallen branches and logs, where bugs can live and wildlife can hibernate.

Monitoring bats

Cotehele also welcomes different bats, which tend to roost in the estate’s hollowed trees, the eaves of the holiday cottages and the limekilns on Cotehele Quay. Several colonies of lesser horseshoe bats also roost in four chimneys in the house.

George Holmes, Cotehele’s lead ranger says, ‘The bats identified in our recent wildlife survey at the quay include tiny pipistrelles – which are less than the size of a thumb – noctule, natterer’s and daubenton’s, which are sometimes called “water bats” because they catch insects from the water’s surface.’

Tracking butterflies

Different species of butterflies visit Cotehele during the spring and summer. Part of the team’s job is to monitor and record the butterflies. This data is then fed into the Butterfly Conservation’s national monitoring scheme.

Butterflies are said to be a good indicator of the health of an environment. If butterflies aren’t doing well, it often means that other species are likely struggling too.

Managing woodlands for butterflies

There are growing concerns that the trend for warmer, wetter winters will seriously affect many butterfly species. The rangers are working to improve butterfly habitats in Cotehele’s woodlands.

This involves removing overhanging vegetation, conducting woodland edge management and improving the woodland understory. This will allow more sunlight in while also encouraging brambles, honeysuckle and coppices regrowth – all things that butterflies love. The work is beneficial for other creatures too.

Common pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) in flight over silver birch branch
Common pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) in flight over silver birch branch | © National Trust Images/Bat Conservation Trust/Hugh Clark

Cotehele’s woodlands and wildlife

Cotehele is home to 111 hectares of mixed woodland, including oak, ash, sweet chestnut, sycamore and beech as well as hazel and holly. The team actively manage the woodland to encourage biodiversity and keep the trees healthy. This sometimes means cutting trees down.

History of the woodlands

Cotehele’s woodlands grow on steep sloped valley sides along the River Tamar and are extremely varied in character. They also range in age.

There are the ancient woodlands of Cotehele Wood and Bohetherick, and then areas such as Danescombe Valley and Comfort Wood, which were old mining and market gardens that were only converted to woodland in the last century.

Cutting down trees

The team at Cotehele work hard to ensure the woodlands remain healthy and thriving, which sometimes means cutting down trees. There are different reasons why we need to cut down trees, including:

  • Thinning older, established trees to give saplings the light they need to grow.
  • Creating temporary glades within the woodlands. Glades let light in and create important habitats for butterflies and wildflowers to thrive.
  • Allowing specimen trees to flourish. The team thins the vegetation around veteran trees, as they need light and room around them to age and set seed. Plus, these older trees often have nooks and holes that are great for wildlife, while lichens establish on their bark providing a home for invertebrates.
  • Coppicing. This is a traditional practice, which not only improves the health of hazel trees, but creates a superior habitat for dormice and birds and also provides wood for communities.
  • Removing invasive species like rhododendron, laurel, Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam.
  • Removing diseased trees.

Ash dieback

Ash dieback is a fungal disease that attacks ash trees. It was first identified in the Tamas Valley in the late 2010s, but has likely been present for longer. It’s causing a significant impact on the Cotehele estate, where ash is one of the most prominent tree species.

Following a 2019 survey, we know that it’s present in almost every woodland area on the estate. The disease causes branches to become unstable and dangerous. So, for safety, we're removing any affected trees near visitor routes (paths, roads and car parks etc).

What happens to the cut wood

The team at Cotehele often leave wood where it falls. This is because decaying wood provides a wonderful habitat for deadwood invertebrates, which then provide a welcome food source for other species. Leaving dead wood is an important part of the woodland management plan.

Cut wood at Cotehele is also used as fuel and for building and signs. In fact, the benches around the estate are usually made from Cotehele wood and we also sell logs to the local community.

Wildlife in the woodlands

The woodland habitats are important to the survival of many of Cotehele’s resident wildlife. For example, the ground of the woodland is home to invertebrate populations, notably the scorpion fly, which has not previously been found in Cornwall.

The ancient woodlands are also important for birds. They contain diverse breeding and wintering communities, including sparrowhawks, barn owls, lesser spotted woodpeckers and green warblers.

The Quay on the Tamar River at dawn, at Cotehele, near Saltash, Cornwall


Everyone needs nature, now more than ever. Donate today and you could help people and nature to thrive at the places we care for.

You might also be interested in

Three volunteers put bags of freshly picked apples onto a trailer in an orchard at Cotehele, Cornwall

Caring for Cotehele's orchards 

Cotehele relies on its dedicated gardeners and volunteers to care for the estate’s orchards, protecting them for the future and allowing resident wildlife to thrive.

One visitor poses for a photo in front of a garden wall in the gardens at Cotehele, Cornwall

Visiting Cotehele's garden 

Take a stroll around the 5.5 hectares of Cotehele's garden where you’ll discover terraced herbaceous borders, a lily pond as well as a medieval stewpond and dovecote.

The Quay on the Tamar River at dawn, at Cotehele, near Saltash, Cornwall

Exploring the Cotehele estate 

There's lots to discover at the Cotehele estate. Miles of pathways lead you through ancient woodland, past a historic chapel, and to an important Victorian quay.

Visitors walking dogs in the woodland at Blickling, Norfolk

Visiting Cotehele with your dog 

Dogs are welcome to join you at Cotehele. There are miles of paths and loads of space where they can stretch their legs and bowls of clean water once they’re thirsty. Cotehele is a two pawprint rated place.

Ranger in National Trust fleece inspecting white blossom on tree in orchard

Our cause 

We believe that nature, beauty and history are for everyone. That’s why we’re supporting wildlife, protecting historic sites and more. Find out about our work.

A group of hikers climb a path through woodland towards the camera

For everyone, for ever: our strategy to 2025 

Read about our strategy 'For everyone, for ever' here at the National Trust, which will take the organisation through to 2025.